Causes of Absorption Disorders

Some absorption disorders result from a congenital (i.e., present at birth, inherited) or acquired (i.e., not hereditary) abnormality in the GI tract. Others develop as a result of damage to the intestinal mucosa or digestive organs. This damage may be caused by injury, disease, or an abnormal immune system response.

Other types of absorption disorders are caused by decreased production of certain substances (e.g., digestive enzymes, stomach acid, bile) in the GI tract or biliary system (e.g., pancreas) or by microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, parasites) in the digestive system.

Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and radiation therapy (treatment that uses high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells) to the abdominal area can damage the digestive tract and impair absorption.

Medical conditions also can cause malabsorption. These conditions include the following:

  • Cancer of the small intestine or other gastrointestinal organs (e.g., stomach [gastric] cancer, colorectal cancer)
  • Cystic fibrosis (genetic disease that causes severe digestive problems and also affects the lungs, liver, reproductive system, and urinary tract)
  • Fibromyalgia (characterized by pain and stiffness in muscles, ligaments, and tendons; may also affect the GI tract)
  • Immune system disorders (e.g., scleroderma)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD; e.g., Crohn's disease)
  • Liver disease (e.g., cirrhosis)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 13 Mar 2008

Last Modified: 16 May 2011